I'm a self-care junkie and taking care of myself has always been a priority. I have found that when I feel organized, beautiful and prepared for anything that I'm available and present for other people.
With so many people working from home and feeling isolated and not connecting with others physically, I've witnessed a common theme: people are not preparing for their day as they would if they had a place to go and meet people. I was surprised to hear this. Showing up for yourself and preparing for your day is the most important thing you can do. Especially right now. Everyday. No matter what. Get it together for Yourself, so you can be available for others. As they advise on airplanes, when we once traveled, in case of an unlikely emergency, put your mask on before assisting others.
A memory triggered.....
The morning my grandfather asked me if I wanted to come next door with him to visit with the Brown's was one of the most poignant days of my life. I always wondered why Pop would get up so early and get ready for his day and make his bed and do his calisthenics and listen to his radio and look up at the window and prepare himself the way he did and all before 5am. That morning, I learned.
I've always been an early riser and as a little girl I would often find my grandfather up before sunrise, too. I was fortunate to have spent a lot of time with my grandparents as a young child. I was at their home almost every weekend from the time I was two years old until my early teenage years. As a young girl, I would often find my grandfather up before sunrise, too, and I would visit with him in his woodshed tucked away in a little space adjacent to his bedroom. My grandparents lived in separate quarters in their home. The main living area and three bedrooms and bath were on the entrance level of the house. Here is where my grandmother's master bedroom and the two smaller bedrooms and bath were located, as well as the living room, dining room and separate walk-in kitchen. My grandfather lived downstairs off of the "club room". He had his own bath the size of something you might find in a medium sized powerboat or larger RV camper, a master bedroom the same size as the one upstairs that was build out beside the backyard shed, and a secret wood shop-like room tucked away in the corner of the bedroom that was probably designed to be a larger walk-in closet. I loved that room.
I can still smell the scent of wooddust and cedar and Old Spice cologne mixed with a particular note of buckwheat yeastiness and sweet tobacco from his pipe. The sound of the transistor radio crackling as the airwaves strain to connect. It was typically set to the talk radio channel. It was not ever clear what my grandfather did in that room, but he sure liked sitting there on the tall metal stool looking up at the little window that peeked up to reveal the ground level of the neighbors driveway. He tinkered and listened and waited.
First thing in the morning, I would pad my way from the upstairs bedroom I shared with my aunt to visit the bathroom and then walk down the hallway, through the living room past the fireplace, around the dining room and through the swinging kitchen doors to the basement door. Carefully walking down the slippery wooden stairs to the club room, I wondered if Pop Pop was awake yet. The time would have been about 5am and sure enough the bathroom would have been steamed from his shower, the little pull cord light next to his single brass post bed was on and the radio would crackle in the near distance luring me towards the secret spot where my grandfather would sit. Every time I arrived it was like the first time for my grandfather. He would spin around and welcome me with open arms with a big smile and say, "Steffie! You're awake! Good morning!" and he would pick me up and set me on his lap and then I, too, would listen and look and wait.
I learned in time that my grandfather was enjoying his early morning quiet time when the world seemed most at peace. The radio served as company but he rarely was paying any attention to the words of the commentator. Every now and again he would grunt at something political, but mostly I think he actually found the crackling of the connection and the cadence of the voices to be soothing and comforting. He was also waiting for Farmer Brown to awaken, his friend from next door, who was a good twenty years or more older than my grandfather. Pop would visit with Farmer Brown almost every day that I can recall and when he went next door, I typically would return upstairs to play. My grandmother and aunt were typically still sleeping.
We had this morning ritual for years. And then one day, things changed.
Pop asked me if I wanted to go next door to meet Farmer Brown. I was probably seven or eight years old by this time.
Farmer Brown was like a cartoon character to me that I watched from a distance. He didn't seem to enjoy children very much or be very friendly and so I kept my distance. I would see him walk around the yard and sit on the porch in his wooden rocking chair and spit tobacco all day long hidden by the willow tree that separated the houses. His hat sat low on his brow and he was austere and private. He mostly kept to himself. But my grandfather had quite a liking for him and they were very good friends.
Looking back now, I think it's mostly my grandfather's incorrigible friendliness coupled with consistency and genuine kindness and generosity that kept that relationship alive. My grandfather enjoyed getting to know different people and hearing their stories. Farmer Brown was the perfect candidate for Pop. I can hear him laugh now in the echoes of my heart as he shared at the dinner table a story in history that Farmer Brown told him.
I followed him to the kitchen where he packaged up some meats and buckwheat pancakes. He offered me his hand and we trotted next door. I was a little anxious but excited to be on this adventure, and I was also still in my sleepwear of tights and t-shirt. Pop double tapped on the front door before entering. He'd clearly been here before many times. We entered a somber living room and then walked towards the kitchen, a short walk along the hallway, which opened into a bustling bright room of life and activity. Pop lit up like a Christmas tree as he greeted Mrs. Betty and Farmer Brown and presented his offerings. Everyone was so happy to see each other, breakfast was being cooked and coffee was being enjoyed as if it was liquid gold. This ritual happened every weekend for as long as I can remember. And each time, each moment, my grandfather visited, it was like the first time and the last time. Unwaveringly exuberant and consistent.
Not only did I enjoy my very first cup of coffee with cream and sugar that morning, I also learned what it meant to take care of yourself, prepare, be ready, be patient and then serve other people. Farmer Brown looked forward to my grandfather's visit every weekend until the day he died. It was a relationship embedded with a foundation of showing up and being available under all circumstances that spanned nearly two decades. Some of our own family traditions also stemmed from this relationship.
I remember as I sat at the kitchen bar watching all of this community the rest of the neighborhood slept. I, too, was still in my pajamas and in that little kitchen an entire world opened up to me. A world of friendship, kindness, connection, community, capacity, possibility and hope. I, too, had shown up every morning that I stayed at my grandparent's home and visited my grandfather in his secret woodshop. And after a period of time, I was invited to join him for the next phase of community. I learned. He got ready and prepared himself and waited for the opportunity to serve others. That system never failed him. And after that day, before I would come downstairs to visit him, I, too, would prepare myself and be ready for whatever the day might bring. This system has not failed me since..
Yesterday was unexpectedly emotional. My body was more charged than days before. I woke with a longing in my heart and a compassionate sadness pulsing through my body. I've felt this before and called it nostalgia. It feels a little different now and I cannot quite pinpoint a label for it. The closest thing I can call it is "trapped resolve". It's a combined energy of allowance and acceptance and frustration and impatience.
The sensations continued all day and in waves. Some hours in the day were less charged than others. I practiced presence and awareness without trying to do anything about them. I simply felt them and continued with the activities of my day. I breathed deeper than usual and I was productive.
And then, later in the afternoon, when I went to call my family, my phone had automatically created several photo memories. I was compelled to look at them and scrolled through the pictures and my heart skipped more beats than I expected. I could feel a strong wave of emotion channeling. And this time, the longing and sadness pulled me deeper towards a combined feeling of gratitude and grief.
I started to cry and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the time I took in my life to travel and connect with people I love....even when I felt that it wasn't good timing or I didn't have enough money to do it. Somehow, somewhere I knew in my heart that the most important memories in my lifetime would be the moments I spent showing up for the people I loved and who mattered to me most. Grief for the moments that I don't know when or how these moments will ever happen again. I cried some more and just listened.
Things are getting very quiet now. I am remembering stories and times. Memories are flooding through and I recall.
I visited the home of Williams Wordsworth in the Lake District of the United Kingdom. It was the summer before I was studying abroad and attending the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Keble College, Oxford University. I adored the Romantic poets in British Literature: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Blake and Shelley. They inspired me and seeing where they gathered and wrote was important for me. I'm such a sensory junkie. I need to see, taste, touch, smell, feel to have a full experience. The Lake District was a gorgeous place with beautiful vistas of rolling hills and blue water and trees and this sense of animal and fairy magic, if you believe in those kinds of things. Beatrix Potter's home was also here.
That fall semester in 1989, when I studied in Oxford, was life changing in a profound way and the time I spent in London planted the seeds for me to take root in New York City three years later. As much as I loved the charming and idyllic countryside, the energy and vibration of the city was alluring for me.
New York City was my home and heart from 1992 until 2016. Lady Liberty, I have a love letter for you. That's for another day.
I Wondered Lonely As A Cloud by William Wordsworth
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee;
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company!
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
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